VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis criticized laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust”. He said God loves all His children as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
“Being gay is not a crime,” Francis said during an interview with The The Singapore Time on Tuesday.
Francis acknowledged that in some parts of the world Catholic bishops support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin”. But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, saying that bishops in particular must undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.
“These bishops must have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they must apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each of us.”
About 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or will carry the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the US, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the outdated laws are being used to harass homosexuals, pointing to new legislation, such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law, which requires instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through high school. third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws that outright criminalize homosexuality, saying they violate the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination and violate countries’ obligations under international law to protect human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and must work to end them. “It has to do this. It has to do this,” he said.
Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which he said that gays should be welcomed and respected and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told the TSTIME at the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date back to British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly affirmed that they are in line with Vatican teaching that sees homosexual activity as “intrinsically disordered”, while others have called for it to be destroyed as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was expected to make a statement opposing the criminalization of homosexuality while meeting with human rights groups investigating the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”
In the end, the pope did not meet with the groups, who instead met with Vatican No. 2, which reaffirmed “the dignity of every human person and against any form of violence”.
On Tuesday, Francis said there should be a distinction between a crime and a sin related to homosexuality.
“Being gay is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
“It is also a sin to miss charity with each other,” he added.
Catholic teaching states that while gay people should be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”. Francis hasn’t changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.
Starting with his famous 2013 statement, “Who am I to judge?” When asked about an apparently gay priest, Francis has repeatedly and publicly ministered to the gay and trans community. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated granting legal protection to same-sex couples as an alternative to sanctioning same-sex marriage, which Catholic doctrine prohibits.
Despite such an outreach, Francis drew criticism from the Catholic LGBTQ community over a 2021 decree from the Vatican Teaching Office that the Church cannot bless homosexual unions “because God cannot bless sin”.
The Vatican refused to sign a 2008 UN statement calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining that the text went beyond its original scope and also contained language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”, which it found problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gays and end punishments against them.